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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5574


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (5:28 PM) —In continuation, I am surprised that there is any partisanship around this Excise Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Aviation Fuel) Bill 2010 because this is legislation designed to put CASA on a firm financial footing into the future. One hundred per cent of the revenue raised will go to CASA—every single cent. It will be used to fund vital safety surveillance, safety analysis, safety inspections and other critical safety functions at CASA. It will also provide that long-term funding stability for CASA to ensure that it can continue with important programs such as random alcohol and drug testing and airspace regulation.

There are increasingly complex demands on the safety regulator through increased operations of low-cost carriers, charter services and foreign operators; increasing helicopter usage and offshore maintenance. As I have stated before to the parliament, this legislation has not just come from the budget papers. This is a process that began in 2008. Indeed, in February of 2008 Australia’s safety systems were reviewed against the minimum global standards, which are established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. This audit was conducted under ICAO’s universal safety oversight audit program. This is a program under which ICAO has due consideration for the safety systems that exist in national jurisdictions.

Aviation, like shipping, is regulated in many aspects on an international basis. That is the nature of the industry. ICAO, during this audit, made on-site assessments of the safety oversight of all aspects of Australia’s aviation industry. Australia—I hope this is bipartisan—supports ICAO in the role that ICAO plays. The audit conducted from 18 to 28 February 2008 made a number of findings. It affirmed that Australia had a very sound legislative and regulatory framework and that in the majority of technical areas of safety Australia’s system is well above the international average. The audit did, however, indicate room for improvement for CASA, particularly in relation to the numbers of technical staff in some areas of expertise, and in strategies to maintain technical expertise and qualifications within the organisation.

The aviation white paper, which followed the aviation green paper and was published in December of last year, stated:

CASA acknowledges that it has experienced a shortage of technical staff in particular areas, and is addressing issues raised by the audit through specific corrective actions …

And they went on to list workforce capability, training and skills issues. The white paper, on page 111, said:

The Government has committed to complete the majority of Australia’s corrective actions by the end of 2010.

We have had a two-year process of negotiation on these issues. The industry has been fully apprised of the direction that this has been headed in. To pretend that it is acceptable or at all legitimate for me, as the Australian transport minister, and for transport officials of this country—including from CASA—to go to the ICAO general assembly to be held later this year and say, ‘Sorry, we couldn’t get the legislation about extra safety inspectors that you said were required through the Senate,’ is just, frankly, a complete abrogation of responsibility.

We know that there is a need for additional specialist staff. That is why we announced the increase in funding for CASA through the excise increase in the budget on 11 May. On budget night we put out a media release on aviation safety, and the details of what CASA’s new funding will be used for were set out on pages 168 and 169 of the portfolio budget statements. But when CASA and the department presented at the Senate estimates two weeks later, on 27 May, there was not a single question about these issues. There was not one question from those opposite—not one question of substance or even of polemic. They knew this was coming. It was there in the budget papers and there was no problem but when the legislation was introduced last week and debated and voted upon today, those opposite found that they did have problems. We had three speakers from the National Party as well as from the Liberal Party opposing this sensible measure.

Part of the aviation green paper and white paper which I am sure the National Party cannot recognise indicates that this is a coherent policy approach for the sector. In submissions to the green paper, where we foreshadowed the need for CASA to be appropriately funded, Rex Regional Express airlines welcomed the government’s review of regulatory charges in the regional airlines sector. In response to the white paper, the government announced that CASA’s regulatory service charges would be capped to address the burden of regulatory charges, in particular on regional and general aviation.

That compares with what happened when the Leader of the National Party was the transport minister, when there was a massive increase in regulatory charges between 2004-05 and 2005-06. At the same time, the increase in aviation fuel excise did not matter when they decided to cut $9 million of appropriation revenue from that excise for CASA! The hypocrisy in their position on this is extraordinary.

We had an extraordinary contribution by the member for Farrer, which cannot go unaddressed. The member for Farrer said:

In fact, I think it will add up to a lot more money. So many more dollars will go in the door of CASA but there is no real accountability for the use of that money, other than 100 new cops on the beat.

That is what she said. I actually think 100 new cops on the beat looking at aviation safety is a good thing. But the member for Farrer disparages it. She goes further:

In conclusion: where is the problem?

Maybe she does not have a television. Maybe she does not read the newspapers. Maybe she is not aware of these issues. Maybe she was not aware of the ICAO audit. Maybe she is not aware that the government indicated in the aviation white paper that safety and security would be the No. 1 priority. She says:

Demonstrate the case. Please recognise that general aviation and the airlines in this country do not need further regulation from CASA. The average private pilot probably wants to be able to sit in the hangar at the end of the day when all flying is concluded and have a couple of beers, without somebody coming past with a clipboard, a breathalyser and a reason to do a drug test. It is beyond a joke.

That is what the member for Farrer said about aviation safety inspectors. In fact, drug and alcohol testing in the aviation industry was announced on 8 May 2007 by the former government’s Minister for Transport and Regional Development, Mark Vaile. In that announcement the government provided for some $9 million over three years to introduce mandatory drug and alcohol testing in the aviation industry. Mr Vaile said, ‘The mandatory tests will start in 2008.’ That program was supported by us when we were in opposition, but apparently it is not supported by the current opposition any more. They do not support mandatory drug and alcohol testing. It is an extraordinary proposition, it is incredibly irresponsible and I think it highlights their bankrupt position when it comes to these issues.

The previous government raised the fuel excise 11 times. In fact, in 1999 and 2003 the previous government increased the excise rate for the specific purpose of providing additional funding to CASA and we supported it, as any responsible parliamentarian would. In its last term of office from 2004 to 2007, the previous government more than doubled CASA’s regulatory services charges on industry. If the opposition want to be taken at all seriously in the area of aviation safety, they should not do what they have done on aviation security, where they have opposed any regulations with regard to the cockpits of aircraft, but instead take a step back and recognise that they got it wrong and should be supporting this measure.

The fact that the second reading amendment attempts to condemn the government for a lack of consultation and communication with the aviation industry is unbelievable, because not just the Australian aviation industry but also the whole international aviation industry has been on notice since February 2008 that these issues needed to be addressed. This government is determined to make sure that these issues are addressed. This is good legislation. It needs to be passed through this House, it needs to be passed through the Senate and it needs to be put in place by 1 July 2010, because when it comes to aviation safety we cannot compromise. We need to do all that is in our power to do the right thing and avoid risk. This is sensible risk management. We know that those opposite are a risk on a range of issues, but when it comes to aviation safety I say that this bill should pass both houses of parliament with the support of every member of the House of Representatives and every senator. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Truss’s amendment) stand part of the question.